Get fruity with Forth Valley Orchards

Diane Alderdice (left) and Margaret Miller of
Diane Alderdice (left) and Margaret Miller of

Stealing crab apples was a mischevious adventure I did regularly as a youngster during the autumn months.

But now that I’m too slow to outrun whoever is hot-tailing it after me from their property it’s maybe wise to consider a less hazardous solution for my apple fix.

Apparently, taking apples from trees without permission is called ‘scrumping’, 
according to the two 
women, Margaret Miller and Diane Alderdice, who run Forth Valley Orchards (FVO). But not all scrumping is frowned upon.

Former head teacher Margaret, who is the initiative’s education co-ordinator, said: “We promote ‘responsible scrumping’. It’s an English term. It’s about making sure you have permission and you’re not stripping the tree and you’re leaving some for wildlife as well. Owners are often quite glad to see the fruit being used.

“There’s a Scrumpers Group that shows where the trees are where you can pick the fruit without too much bother. Maybe an orchard owner would be reluctant to let people in, but maybe we can say on a given day we can get access to the orchard, which is given freely, and people are very welcome. It does prevent people just going in and stealing.”

The duo, who are immensely passionate about the subject, started FVO four years ago and see the Forth Valley basin as a “scattered” orchard ripe for growing fruit in every garden, community and free space and they’re on a mission to turn Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire into a sustainable utopia flourishing with the succulent wonders of nature.

FVO provides support and funding for anyone, groups or individuals, who want to start growing fruit whether it’s in a back garden or an empty space in a community.

Sitting with them in Callendar Park’s walled Garden on a hot, sunny Monday morning this week it was difficult not to be enthused by their zest for everything fruity as they waxed lyrical about all the great things you get from the spoils grown in an orchard.

They might be softly spoken but their message comes through loud and clear.

Oh, how I could have gulped down a nice apple or even pear cider despite the early hour and the fact I was working. It didn’t feel like working though sitting on a bench at a table in the nice surroundings. I could have been in a beer garden on a Friday after work.

That’s the thing with people like Diane and Margaret, they can transport you into their world to embrace what they have to offer, especially if it’s an idea that makes sense and has many social, economic and environmental benefits.

So if you even have the slightest interest in growing some fruit, or any other food for that matter, I’m sure Margaret and Diane would nurture the seed even further.

Diane said: “It started out as a mapping project, mapping the orchard resource of Forth Valley, but also wanting to involve communities in developing the resource and looking after it.

“The idea was to raise awareness about this wonderful orchard resource that we have here and the traditional orchards of Forth Valley, but also to get people to look after them, maintain them and use them as well because part of the problem of the decline of the orchards in the area was because people weren’t looking after the trees.

“If you see Forth Valley as a scattered orchard, if you like, people have fruit trees in their gardens, communities are planting their own, schools have them and land owners have them and there are lots of scattered ones by the wayside.

“They’re everywhere basically so it was about initially mapping all this out and finding where the resource was and what the opportunity was for developing them and growing more fruit trees and it’s really taken off.”

It certainly has. From its humble roots of simply finding local orchards, FVO now supports over 100 community groups in the Forth Valley area and more than 200 people through workshops.

They work with four schools – two in Bo’ness and St Bernadette’s and Head of Muir primaries – as well as groups like Communities Along The Carron, Friends of Dollar Park and Falkirk Allotment Society who have all received funding from FVO for various projects that have increased community involvement.

Margaret said: “It becomes a thing to be used communally and the groups are very keen to share this resource with the rest of the community. We have a free workshops programme and Dollar Park has been a venue for that.

“We’re also developing plans for cider makers and people making jams and jellies, juicing, apple pie competitions. Another project that is taking off in Stirling is the idea of a street orchard.

“Perhaps you don’t have a big space but you have a tree and next door has a different one and, if you can picture it, all the way along a street and that also becomes a community orchard. It’s a lovely idea and I think that will have a lot of appeal for people.

“We have funding available to take forward projects and that can be a big sticking point. Apply to us, come up with an idea and we’ll look at it.

If people can come forward with a good plan, almost like a business plan, that has plenty of community involvement, we’ll support them.”

FVO is supported and funded by Forth Environment Link and the Central Scotland Green Network development fund, but their funding will dry up in 2015 and the future after that is uncertain.

Diane added: “Our funding runs out in March 2015 so for after that we’re looking to build in sustainability when we’re not here.

“Who knows if we’ll be here after 2015.”